Thinking about how this work can be applied remotely (aka the Pittsburgh Pivot)

Hi everyone,

As I communicated to the project team, I’m hopeful that we can resume our pilots more or less as planned at some point, and I’ll continue to communicate with IMLS about our project timeline and expectations.

In the meantime, @Steph_Miller and I started an email conversation (well Steph started it by raising a ton of interesting ideas, all I did was suggest we start a board thread) about how we can apply this work to current pressing need in our communities. I’m sure it’s on all of our minds right now.

Just to do an inventory of what we have so far:

Any ideas about how we could do double-duty with these efforts to meet community learning needs while many people will not be able to gather?

I’ll start with a few things I’m thinking about:

  • This crisis is deepening the digital divide. I expect that there will be long-term efforts at providing people with tech (for instance a Chromebook and hotspot) to use at home, which would help with access. What about skills though? I could see community-facilitators helping newly connected people learn to use their tech either (a) in-person, within communities or (b) remotely by phone or chat. I’d love to see libraries use our training to train community digital literacy learning leads.
  • To reach people who won’t have reliable broadband, could facilitators use SMS? @Nico_Koenig @grif @dirk have you heard of any of our colleagues trying something along those lines?

@Daniel_Hensley @Nico_Koenig @grif @dirk @Qumisha_Goss
Speaking of the digital divide, NTEN is offering it’s 1st cohort for the Digital Equity Professional Certificate - which is an online learning circle for working professionals like us. I’m currently begging MCL to pay for this course - if they don’t, I’m willing to pay out of pocket, with MCL giving me time to pursue it. It starts April 7th and below’s what I shared with MCL for my request - it would be cool to try an online learning circle cohort together and see what we can use for this grant.

"Due to the impact of COVID-19, I need to retool MCL’s adult technology, workforce development and small business programming to prioritize digital literacy skill development during a time of social distancing and connecting online. To help me strengthen the skills I’ll need and generate new ideas to share with my colleagues, I’d love to take part in the Digital Equity Professional Certificate.

This certification program is run by NTEN, a respected organization that builds capacity at nonprofits through training. When I asked Leana Mayzlina, NTEN’s Senior Program Manager, if she thought this program would help me with my professional goals, she shared “While the curriculum of the certificate doesn’t necessarily focus on how to do digital literacy during times of social distancing (because we want the certificate to be timely, timeless, and relevant regardless of the specific moment we’re living in), I’m sure that will be a very heavy topic of conversation. Faculty are always open to questions and the courses are participative and interactive, so I’m sure discussions will focus on this topic. Also worth mentioning that during the Core, all participants design a project to work on, so I’d encourage that to be your project!”

I think this certificate is a great opportunity for me to learn the best and most efficient practices for supporting digital inclusion via adult programming, that I can implement at MCL. I’m particularly excited about the course Carlos Galeana is teaching: “Teaching technology to adult learners”

This certificate program also aligns very well with an IMLS grant I’m working on with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for creating communal learning experiences using online content."

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Here are the thoughts/ideas/assumptions I shared with Dan - what do y’all think?:

  • I’m starting to think about my public library work (let alone our society) as pre- and post-vaccine, which is at least a few months away

  • During the pre-vaccine phase, we need to strictly adhere to social distancing to protect the most vulnerable of us, which are the community members I most want to reach with learning circles - if libraries open, we’ll probably do something like limited entry (like Target, etc) and only keep the most basic services going, but we have so many shared surfaces (computers, books, tables, chairs), that it’ll take a lot of effort (and cleaning) to even offer the most basic services effectively.

  • I’ve shared this recommendation with my leadership concerning my adult tech, workforce development and small business programming:
    “Due to the reliance of these programs on meeting in person and using shared technology or touching patron devices, and the need to get physically close to vulnerable populations for tech support, we recommend not offering classes until we can ensure the safety of those attending. We shouldn’t have classes in May or June (this is our current programming cycle). If we do offer classes, wait until at least June in order to develop and pilot vetted safety protocols when supporting patrons with technology and we limit teachers to staff, in order to further refine these protocols before involving volunteers”

  • In terms of this project and learning circles, I would love to dig into what distance ed is doing during this time and how that can apply in a public library setting - we facilitate synchronous online/hybrid/in-person and folks have pre-discussion asynchronous online learning and activities (that facilitators can support via email).

  • The MCL programming department (we’re all teleworking, unless we volunteer/get assigned for other emergency duties like shelters, or take admin leave) is taking a sharp turn towards social media and virtual opportunities

  • what if CLP’s P2PU web instance became a model for a public libraries version of Blackboard? I would love that right now - we recently lost our marketing director/social media person, so we have some good staff involvement with this effort and a place where we’ll do some more development is adult learning content, but if we included opportunities to connect with others in your community in a constructive way, I think we’ve got an amazing opportunity here - in this case, I totally would love to pilot something in July (but it probably won’t include volunteers at first - I and my colleagues gotta figure it out, first)

  • I think a place for public library online learning is online facilitation in small, facilitated groups (cohorts) - having too many folks involved in discussions online is unwieldy for our brains and for our heavily-used internet bandwidth - even for the folks with good networks, this seems to be an issue - so we gotta keep it small anyway and keeping it local allows us to be “alone together”

  • Let’s trial Zoom for this project!


I could see community-facilitators helping newly connected people learn to use their tech either (a) in-person, within communities or (b) remotely by phone or chat. I’d love to see libraries use our training to train community digital literacy learning leads.

A-> What are thinking here? I could imagine intergenerational, at-home family-learning tech sessions, but it’s hard to consider what “within communities” means when people are not meeting in-person. At least in Canada (as of today March 30), only households can have more than 2 people that meet together.


  • We’re involved with a really interesting digital inclusion project with @Wendy_Pearson at Kansas City. They have a system where people can book tech literacy appointments with volunteers, but they haven’t set it up yet to support those online.

  • There’s a lot of discussion about this issue (not specific to librarians) on the National Digital Inclusion Alliance listserv. Free to join:

To reach people who won’t have reliable broadband, could facilitators use SMS? @Nico_Koenig @grif @dirk have you heard of any of our colleagues trying something along those lines?

The dashboard is set up to send group SMS text messages for free, but other than reminder messages, I haven’t seen how it has been used for other LC purposes. SMS accessible though, but just like using any other medium (like radio, or flyers), it’s hard to apply it to entirely different medium like a computer or smartphone. However, thinking of it another way, you could imagine it more as a motivational tool, or a way to share questions and answers in a different format.

We’ve thought about what the P2PU website looks for learners/patrons, outside of just signing up for a learning circle. We’ve had some discussion about this idea last year with @Beatrice_Pulliam from Providence Library (Your dream P2PU platform), and Pittsburgh WeLearn and our new team pages templates ( are a closer step to that direction.

@Steph_Miller I’d like to hear more about what this “library blackboard” would look like. What would you like to see more of that isn’t included in WeLearn CLP site?

Let’s trial Zoom for this project!

I recommend something that is free like or, It’s good to try first with something that is free to use first. Zoom is free for 45 minutes as far as I understand.

  • I would love to hear more about the digital inclusion project with @Wendy_Pearson at Kansas City ad about - our volunteer-based one-on-one Tech Help programs at MCL is extremely popular - in FY 19, we served up to 1436 folks - this number doesn’t include the many tech questions staff field both on-site and off. I’ve heard from a few of my colleagues that the growth of tech questions has grown to such an extent that they are recommending updates to their job descriptions.

  • speaking of NDIA, they just sent out an invite yesterday to a library specific group at

  • evolving meaning of “within communities” thoughts: we would have to keep online discussion groups (cohorts?) small, in order to give enough space to more fully engage and because of technology limitations - having them sponsored/facilitated by public libraries offers local credibility, opportunity to engage on geographically local topics ad we would all be in the same time zone.

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Incorporating a way to facilitate online discussion via video chat would make WeLearn CLP more like Blackboard. It would be great to trial these options ourselves for our meetings to see what we think of the interfaces.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to spin up video chats as part of Pittsburgh’s P2PU website. Is there anything else @Steph_Miller that you can imagine right now as being a helpful tool to run virtual programming?

Hey @Daniel_Hensley Saw this post today - no big “a-ha” moments, but a good summary of questions we’re all dealing with.

…many adult education organisations that had to shut down courses but still operate at a core-staff level, focus strongly on the mentoring and counselling of their students during this crisis. They use WhatsApp groups, direct phone calls and other means of communication to reach out to learners and establish a minimum of social contacts. Adult education professionals also reassure persons in difficult financial situations and, by helping people to make sense of the flood of information on the social media, also prevent adherence of learners to fake news. For individuals at danger of domestic violence, adult education can play a key role in keeping contact with neutral “outsiders”.

@Nico_Koenig There is plenty of good stuff in here! Interesting points about remaining in touch (rather than pushing learning outcomes) using lighter technology like WhatsAPP or phone calls.

@grif What would that look like? Some kind of integration with Jitsi?

Re: A, I was thinking of in-person intergenerational help and online learning within communities.

I think that some kind of train-the-trainer for people who need to teach family to use tech could have a big impact. One of the things that struck me as I’ve been trying to move digital literacy learning online is the very obvious problem of using tech to teach people who don’t know how to use tech now to use tech. So, I’ve been thinking about targeting caretakers. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it

I also think that one of the barriers for online nonformal learning by video chat will be that people won’t feel comfortable videochatting with customers. Could we help people group themselves into cohorts with people who they are used to seeing in person – say, friends from a now-closed senior day center – and train one of them to facilitate a learning circle on Jisti? That way, they can be relatively comfortable awkwardly video chatting with people they already know rather than strangers.

@grif Your blog post just put a little spring in my step! It looks like you and Sebastien have created and documented a viable blueprint for online learning circles.

I’m probably a week or two away from being able to consider any new programs, but if we end up needing to plan to do service virtually for a few months, I plan to try this. (Maybe starting by training some volunteer facilitators…)

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@Daniel_Hensley or @grif - which blog post?

Whoop, that would probably help, huh?

I’m happy to hear that!

I’m happy to talk about it in more detail on our next project call.

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@Steph_Miller If the paperwork stars align, I may be able to join the NTEN Digital Equity cohort at the last minute. Are you in it?

I am! we just had an orientation session yesterday - let me know if you want me to connect you via email to Leana and Drew at NTEN - it would be awesome to brainstorm with you, @Daniel_Hensley!

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